No. 16 Eastern Surge Past Wildcats 35-24
Note: The Eagle Coaches Show featuring head coach Beau Baldwin will now take place in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Casino and Resort. Fans will be able to order food and beverages and listen to the show from that location. The show, which is aired on 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket” and via the internet at www.espnnorthwest.com, takes place each Monday at 6 p.m. This week’s show will include an interview with Eastern senior tight end Matt Martin. For more information on the show, go to: http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/2010-11/releases/10fbAug26Coaches_Show.doc
Short-handed Eagles roll up 465 yards of offense as EWU turns three Weber State interceptions into scores
Despite not playing with its biggest playmaker and yardage machine, Eastern Washington University found plenty of big plays and plenty of offense at Weber State Saturday (Oct. 2) at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.
Eastern scored 21-straight second-half points after falling behind to surge past the Wildcats 35-24 in a crucial Big Sky Conference football game. Junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell passed for 337 yards and four touchdowns and the defense had three interceptions that led to scores.
“It felt really good -- I was proud of the way we responded,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team lost 30-7 a week earlier at Montana State. “And not just today, but how we responded with great practices. We came out with a focus.”
“They made a little run and got the lead in the third quarter, but our guys kept fighting back,” he added. “There were a couple of different times where I was really proud of that fight.”
Eastern is now 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky, and was ranked 16th in last week’s Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. Weber State is 2-3 and 1-2 in the league. The Wildcats were ranked 19th in The Sports Network preseason poll, but dropped out of the rankings after a 24-17 loss at Sacramento State on Sept. 18.
After splitting a pair of road games, Eastern next hosts Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 on Hall of Fame Day at Eastern. Kickoff is 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., and the first 1,500 fans will receive a commemorative Red Turf schedule poster. A post-game autograph session including selected EWU players and head coach Beau Baldwin is also planned.
Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense, and Weber State finished with 459 after having just 150 in the first half. But most importantly for the Eagles, Eastern had leads after all four quarters -- including an 11-point winning margin.
Mitchell was 23-of-36 as he finished with his first 300-yard passing game for the Eagles. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.
“He took each play one at a time and kept taking what they would give him,” said Baldwin. “He took underneath routes when they were there and led us to first downs. And when it was time to go over the top he put it in spots where our guys could catch it. I thought from the get-go all the way back to the spring that he has those tools. It takes time in a new system and time getting used to things. I’m really proud of him because what he did in practice carried over into the game. He did a great job.”
Senior Ashton Gant, a 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School, had career highs with five catches for 110 yards and scored two touchdowns on passes from Mitchell. His previous highs were four catches for 67 yards in last year’s regular-season ending victory at Northern Arizona. Brandon Kaufman added five grabs for 138 yards.
Eastern junior running back Taiwan Jones, a Walter Payton Award candidate and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision leader in all-purpose yards, did not play because of a pelvic contusion. He had averaged 238.8 all-purpose yards in EWU’s first four games, including an average of 129.5 yards rushing per game.
His backup, Darriell Beaumonte, rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown, and true freshman Mario Brown added 36 yards on the ground. Both also scored touchdowns on passes from Mitchell.
The Eagles had 128 rushing yards, but despite losing that battle to the 144 Weber State had, Baldwin was pleased his team won the turnover battle.
“We talked about two goals in this game -- to try and win the rushing game and winning the turnover battle,” he explained. “I told them if we could do that and take each play one at a time, we could win this game. The players executed that really well.”
Defensively, Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt had an interception and 11 tackles to go over the 300-tackle mark in his career. He now has 306 tackles to rank sixth in school history, and four career interceptions to go along with 10 passes broken up.
Matt Johnson had the 13th interception of his career that led to a first-quarter scoring drive for the Eagles. He ranks fourth in school history, and he is now just five interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) with 17 each. Johnson also had six tackles versus Weber State, giving him 219 in his career to rank 19th all-time at Eastern.
“We had our hands full defensively, but our players did a good job,” Baldwin said. “We slowed them down early so we were able to get a lead and keep a lead going into halftime. Then they made some key picks down there in the red zone that were huge. You win that turnover battle you almost always win.”
In the middle of a gauntlet that features the top four picks -- not including EWU -- in the league’s preseason predictions,
Eastern was coming off a 30-7 loss to Montana State, a school picked to finish third in the league standings. Weber State was picked to finish fourth, and next week’s Eagle opponent, Northern Arizona, was selected fifth. Eastern was picked to finish second behind Montana, a team the Eagles knocked off 36-27 on Sept. 18.
Eastern scored on its first possession, putting together a nine-play, 66-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard touchdown strike from Mitchell to Gant. That early score enabled Eastern to hold a 7-3 lead after the first quarter -- its first lead in five games this season after the first period. Eastern had been out-scored 57-21 in the first quarter entering the game versus the Wildcats, who still have not scored a first-quarter touchdown the entire season.
Eastern used a 13-play, 65-yard drive to score with five seconds left in the first half, with Brown scoring his first career touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Mitchell. Eastern ended the half with a 220-150 advantage in total offense
The Eagles put together a 68-yard drive early in the second quarter, but it ended when Mitchell threw an interception in the end zone on a second down play with Eastern at the Wildcat 12-yard line.
The Wildcats, behind the arm of one of the league’s top quarterbacks in 2008 Big Sky Offensive MVP Cameron Higgins, got back in the game in the second half. Weber State scored on its first possession of the third quarter, then scored on its next offensive play on a 65-yard flea-flicker play to take a 17-14 advantage.
Barely two minutes later, the Eagles regained the lead on a 37-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Gant to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive. Gant also had a 23-yard reception on the drive.
On Weber State’s next possession, Eastern’s Tyler Washburn intercepted a deflected pass at EWU’s goal line, returning it 32 yards and squelching a 73-yard Wildcat drive. That led to a 68-yard EWU scoring drive, capped by a 16-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Beaumonte.
History repeated itself on the next possession, but this time it was Sherritt how had the interception at the goal line and returned it 33 yards. A 67-yard drive ended with Beaumonte’s 7-yard touchdown run and a 35-17 Eastern lead with 9:43 to play.
“Everybody came in with the mindset that we were in for a tough battle and it was going to take all of us playing our tails off for 60 minutes,” added Baldwin. “We knew they were going to make a little run. I wish it wouldn’t have been all the way from 17-14, but give them credit -- they are a good team and they’ve been a good team here for a number of years. So you knew they weren’t just going to roll over.”
Higgins finished the game 22-of-40 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of touchdowns as he went over the 11,000-yard passing mark in his career with 93 touchdowns. He had completed 66-of-122 passes for 785 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions in three previous meetings against EWU. He was 21-of-36 for 235 yards and two scores in engineering last year’s Weber State 31-13 romp in Cheney when Sherritt set a school and Big Sky record with 24 tackles.
But Higgins was on the losing end when Eastern beat the Wildcats in Ogden 33-26 during his MVP season in 2008, as well as 38-16 in Cheney in 2007. He had 312 yards and four interceptions in 2008 when the Eagles ended their season with a victory over Weber State, which opened the door for Montana to share the Big Sky title -- it’s 11th of a current streak of 12-straight titles -- with the Wildcats.